Friday, May 26, 2017

Orb of Power

The question has been on everyone's mind since last Sunday. Well, everybody on the Internet anyway. What is that glowing orb of power thing in Saudi Arabia, and why is President Donald Trump touching it? Speculation online has ranged from a magical Illuminati world domination device, to a mysterious power source salvaged from an alien spacecraft, to a particularly goofy-looking decoration.

But what's the truth? Is it even out there?

On Sunday, an image exploded across the Internet of Donald Trump, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi placing their hands on a glowing orb, surrounded by pleasant onlookers. No one, even those who claim to, really understands why.

Newsweek promised to demystify the viral orbgasm in an article published Sunday called “Why Donald Trump Touched a Glowing Orb in Saudi Arabia.” The article cooly explains that the image depicts Trump at the opening of the Global Center for Combatting Extremist Ideology in Riyadh. But why is he touching a glowing orb? “During the center’s opening ceremony,” the article goes on, “the leaders placed their hands on the globe in a gesture of solidarity to launch the center.” No, I am not satisfied with this explanation. Glowing orbs conjure images of sorcery, Middle Earth, and Sith Lords. They are not symbols of global solidarity.

Literally anything else makes more sense.

As a point, the orb shown here isn't what real magical items, tools, and devices look like. It's what magical items, tools, and devices look like in fantasy movies and Dungeons & Dragons. I have seen a few practitioners put lights under their scrying crystals, which is about the closest thing you'll find that a real magician would use, but still.

Keep in mind I don't really care whether or not the President touches somebody's glowing orb, as long it's all consensual. I just want to know what the darn thing is. Saudi Arabia is known for its anti-witchcraft squad, so maybe the orb is an implement of forbidden magick that they retrieved while trying to keep their kingdom safe from the ravages of evil wizards.

I think King Salman there in the middle knows the true dark origin of the orb. Look at his expression - he looks really, really nervous about touching the thing. Trump, on the other hand, looks entirely oblivious.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

"Megastructure Star" is Dimming Again

KIC 8462852 sure is weird. The star is the subject of speculation as to whether or not some sort of "alien megastructure" might be constructed around it. This is because it shows a pattern of irregular dimming that has yet to be fully explained, despite several alternative hypotheses. Up until now, we have not been able to study the star as it undergoes the dimming process. But astronomers are seeing the star start to dim once more.

Star KIC 8462852, or Boyajian's star (also nicknamed "Tabby's star," for astronomer Tabetha Boyajian, who led the team that first detected the star's fluctuations), has demonstrated an irregular cycle of growing dimmer and then returning to its previous brightness. These changes were first spotted in September 2015 using NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, which was built to observe these kinds of dips in a star's brightness, because they can be caused by a planet moving in front of the star as seen from Earth.

But the brightness changes exhibited by Boyajian don't show the kind of regularity that is typical of a planet's orbit around its star, and scientists can't see how the changes could be explained by a system of planets.

Scientists have hypothesized that the changes could be due to a swarm of comets passing in front of the star, that they're the result of strong magnetic activity, or that it's some massive structure built by aliens. But no leading hypothesis has emerged, so scientists have been eager to capture a highly detailed picture of the light coming from the star during one of these dimming periods. This detailed view is what scientists typically call an object spectra. It can reveal, for example, the specific chemical elements that are in a gas. It can also tell scientists if an object is moving toward or away from the observer.

Observing the star as it dims allows us to make additional observations that may resolve the mystery. Spectroscopy can help identify characteristics of whatever is blocking the star's light. It should be able to establish whether the obstruction is a cloud of gas or dust. But if neither of those wind up matching the measurements, we could be back to the megastructure hypothesis. That would be supported by an observation that the light doesn't seem to be passing through anything - if we can assume that said megastructure is not transparent.

So I'm looking forward to whatever these new observations will detect. As usual, the paranormal explanation shouldn't be the default. But you never know - it just might be space aliens after all.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Not a Nightmare After All

The week before last, I reported on the so-called "nightmare house" in South Carolina. The house was placed on the market with a mysterious note stating that the upstairs unit "cannot be shown under any circumstances." The note added that the buyer would assume responsibility for the upstairs tenant, who had a lease but had never paid rent.

At the time, I said that despite the note, there probably was a more normal explanation than a ghost or a gateway to Hell or something out of a horror movie. And I was right. As reported by The State newspaper in South Carolina, the upstairs tenant is not a ghost or a demon. He's an artist and illustrator who's an old friend of the family that owns the house.

The State newspaper in South Carolina said the real reason is anything but a nightmare. The paper reports the upstairs apartment belongs to tenant Randall McKissick, a once world-renowned artist and illustrator. McKissick lives with his three cats, and is a father of two daughters and is a grandfather.

McKissick has been friends with the owner of the home since junior high school, according to The State. The artist fell on hard times and moved into the upstairs unit nearly 10 years ago. “He never asked for any money,” McKissick said. “He never mentioned money. I would like to pay him, but I don’t have any.”

The owner of the home said he wanted to rent the bottom floor for money, but it needs repairs he can’t afford. “We don’t really have much choice but to sell the house; my parents need to sell it,” the current owner said. “But it’s been in the family for so long, we don’t really want to. And we want Randy to be able to stay there.”

It just goes to show that usually there's a normal explanation. Phenomena like ghosts are paranormal precisely because they are rare. But it also is true that people are drawn to weirdness, and everybody loves a good mystery. That's probably why the house went viral in the first place. I know that's why I picked it up. It would have been more fun for me if it had turned out to be paranormal, but paranormal should never be the default position.

I hope that the situation with McKissick and the homeowner turns out for the best. If nothing else, the "nightmare house" article has drawn a lot of publicity and raised awareness of McKissick's work. You can't buy coverage like that, unless you have a lot to spend.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Path of Initiation - Fire

This article is Part Four of a series. Part One can be found here, Part Two can be found here, and Part Three can be found here.

Working with the Fire element is the third step on the path of initiation into the mysteries of Western Esotericism. On the Tree of Life, the mystical aspects of all four elements correspond to the tenth sephira, Malkuth, which represents the material world. The elements have both microcosmic (psychological) and macrocosmic (physical) components, and as with practical magick, aligning those components is the key to experiencing effective illumination and visionary work. Hence, I use the operant field in these rites just like I do for practical workings.

"Effective" is harder to define with rites of illumination than it is with practical magick. Practical magick is relatively simple to assess - you perform an operation with a specific objective, and then record whether it succeeds or fails. Effective visionary work should obtain information from the exterior world that you could not possible know by any other means, and effective illumination work should transform you in a positive way, increasing your degree of realization and in some real sense making you a "better person."

This process can be highly subjective, and failed initiatory operations often go unrecognized. I am of the opinion that a lot of the nonsense out there from certain allegedly "advanced" magical practitioners can be traced back to these sorts of initiatory failures, and this is a problem that has been acknowledged for a long time in the tradition. To avoid this, you always need to be skeptical about any apparent attainment.

Always test spirits. Always keep track of any changes you observe following illuminating and visionary experiences, and do your best to see if the changes you are seeing from your work are going in a positive direction. Stories of magicians "going insane" from failed operations are highly exaggerated - most often, nothing happens, and the danger lies in being convinced that something did happen and then acting from that perspective.

Today, I'll be focusing on the element Fire. The Fire element corresponds to the plasma state of matter, and in the ancient Greek system of the elements is related to union of the Hot and Dry powers. The Cool power unifies and the Hot power separates. The Dry power reinforces structure, and the Moist power breaks it down. So the fundamental nature of Fire is separating and structured. A more detailed overview of the four classical powers can be found here, and that article includes a link to John Opsopaus' Ancient Greek Esoteric Doctrine of the Elements, which is where I was first exposed to the system.

Friday, May 19, 2017

The White Horse of the Apocalypse


That arrow is tipped with something particularly hilarious about tiny hands.

According to disgraced evangelist Jim Bakker, the apocalypse is upon us. How does he know, you might ask? Why, he's already see the first horse, the White Horse of the Apocalypse, with his own eyes. In fact, it would have been hard to miss, because according to Bakker the White Horse is actually people making fun of Donald Trump. By that logic, there's a whole lot of apocalypse going around right now, and it shows no signs of letting up.

Bakker now sells survivalist food and gear to doomsday preppers on his “Jim Bakker Show.” In a clip from Thursday that was posted online by Right Wing Watch, he claimed there was a “hatred among peoples and this is satanic.” Then he went full “Sleepy Hollow” on his audience:

“This is the White Horse of the Apocalypse. The White Horse of the Apocalypse is the first horse. It’s a horse of speech. It’s a horse of spirit. And the spirit of Antichrist is out now. This is what you’re seeing. You want to know what the Antichrist spirit looks like? That’s what’s going on in America. These people mocking the president, the words they use, the speech they use, that’s the spirit of Antichrist. That’s the spirit of hatred.”

Bakker had a popular ― and lucrative ― TV ministry in the 1980s, but resigned in shame after a sex scandal. He eventually did five years in prison for fraud.

With the usual caveat that I have no real issues with Christians who aren't nutters like Bakker, I'm going to ask the obvious question here. Why should anybody worship a God who can't take a joke? That's So Sad! There, I made fun of one of Trump's tweets. Did I unleash the destruction of the world? It doesn't look like it. What's genuinely sad is watching Bakker carry all this water for Trump's thin-skinned authoritarian nonsense.

A reminder - this is America. We have the right to make fun of the president's hair, or his hands, or his diction, or his tweets. Every single president has been poked fun at over their personal foibles. And, if I want to say that I think Trump is incompetent and unqualified for the job, that's my right, too. Dealing with jokes and opinions like those is part of being a public figure, and as the old cliche goes, if you can't stand the heat stay out of the kitchen.

Bakker should go back to selling potato soup to survivalists before his schtick degenerates into self-parody. By all accounts Trump is not a particularly religious man, so there's no reason to think that God is going to give him any special treatment. That being so, there's no reason to think there's anything theologically special about jokes targeting this particular president. And around here, mocking the president is practically a national pastime.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Literal Word of God?

Huffington Post has an article up today reporting the results of an ongoing Gallup poll of American's beliefs regarding the Bible. The poll has been taken since the 1970's, and found that belief in the Bible as the "literal word of God" is at its lowest point since that time.

Twenty-six percent of Americans view the Bible as “a book of fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by man.” And Gallup found that roughly half of American adults say the Bible is “the inspired word of God” but that it shouldn’t be taken literally.

Gallup polled a random sample of 1,011 adults, aged 18 and older and living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, between May 3-7, 2017.

The survey revealed that the number of Americans who view the Bible as the literal word of God has dropped from 38 percent in 1976 to 24 percent today. The percentage that defines the Bible as a book of fables and stories has doubled since then.

This has coincided with a larger shift in the American religious landscape in recent decades. Belief in God has wavered, and the percentage of Americans who identify as Christian has dropped from over 90 percent to roughly 70 percent. More and more Americans are religiously unaffiliated, meaning they do not identify with any formal religious group.

In fact, the idea that the Bible is the "literal word of God" is kind of ridiculous. The Bible contradicts itself in many places, and it only takes one counterexample to disprove such an absolute statement. The idea that the Bible is a holy book inspired by God, but which should not necessarily be taken literally, is a far more robust belief. As you can see above, the percentage of Americans who view the Bible that way has barely budged.

What I find most interesting is that as the literalist position declines, the increase shows up in the "book of fables" percentage. Some of this likely has to do with an increase in members of minority religions who don't follow the Bible, at least on the surface it seems that what's going on is not "literal" changing over to "inspired," but "literal" transitioning to "fable." Maybe if you're raised as a literalist, once you discover contradictions in the text you can't unsee them.

Still, it seems a little surprising to me that instead of transitioning to more liberal forms of Christianity, literalists might instead reject the Bible altogether as a holy text. To be clear, without a breakout of Christians versus members of other religions, you can't necessarily draw that conclusion from the poll. That's just what it looks like from a surface reading of the results.

Another possibility is that "literals" are transitioning to "inspireds" at the same rate that "inspireds" are abandoning Christianity for other religions and therefore placing the Bible in the "fable" camp. Or there could be some even more complex set of dynamics at work. It's good to see the literalists on the decline for whatever reason, even though 24% still translates to a lot of people who would be fine with killing me just for being a non-Christian - or, I suppose, are hypocrites about the whole thing.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Path of Initiation - Air

This article is Part Three of a series. Part One can be found here, and Part Two can be found here.

Working with the Air element is the third step on the path of initiation into the mysteries of Western Esotericism. On the Tree of Life, the mystical aspects of all four elements correspond to the tenth sephira, Malkuth, which represents the material world. The elements have both microcosmic (psychological) and macrocosmic (physical) components, and as with practical magick, aligning those components is the key to experiencing effective illumination and visionary work. Hence, I use the operant field in these rites just like I do for practical workings.

"Effective" is harder to define with rites of illumination than it is with practical magick. Practical magick is relatively simple to assess - you perform an operation with a specific objective, and then record whether it succeeds or fails. Effective visionary work should obtain information from the exterior world that you could not possible know by any other means, and effective illumination work should transform you in a positive way, increasing your degree of realization and in some real sense making you a "better person."

This process can be highly subjective, and failed initiatory operations often go unrecognized. I am of the opinion that a lot of the nonsense out there from certain allegedly "advanced" magical practitioners can be traced back to these sorts of initiatory failures, and this is a problem that has been acknowledged for a long time in the tradition. To avoid this, you always need to be skeptical about any apparent attainment.

Always test spirits. Always keep track of any changes you observe following illuminating and visionary experiences, and do your best to see if the changes you are seeing from your work are going in a positive direction. Stories of magicians "going insane" from failed operations are highly exaggerated - most often, nothing happens, and the danger lies in being convinced that something did happen and then acting from that perspective.

Today, I'll be focusing on the element Air. The Air element corresponds to the gas state of matter, and in the ancient Greek system of the elements is related to union of the Hot and Moist powers. The Cool power unifies and the Hot power separates. The Dry power reinforces structure, and the Moist power breaks it down. So the fundamental nature of Air is separating and unstructured or dissolving. A more detailed overview of the four classical powers can be found here, and that article includes a link to John Opsopaus' Ancient Greek Esoteric Doctrine of the Elements, which is where I was first exposed to the system.